Okay, we get it: A healthy breakfast is the most important meal of the day. After all, noshing first thing in the morning has been linked with a lower risk of obesity and a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. But sadly, to reap these benefits, you can’t eat just anything your heart desires.
“Breakfast is our chance to start the day with balanced nutrition that can stabilize blood sugars and regulate appetite for the rest of the day,” says Cara Harbstreet, R.D., of Street Smart Nutrition. But unfortunately, breakfast is traditionally a starchy paradise: White toast, bagels, pancakes, doughnuts, and more make up some of the most ubiquitous breakfast foods. “This can be good for energy levels, but it doesn’t last unless we have other elements for satiety,” she says.
Instead, aim for a balanced meal that includes lean protein, healthy fats, and fibre-rich carbs. ”Balancing foods give you a steady stream of energy,” heading off a sugar rush and hunger pains before your next meal, says Kristina LaRue, R.D. “Compare a doughnut to an egg omelet with veggies and a side of fruit. That balanced energy will help you power through the morning.”
To help you figure out if your breakfast hits the mark, measure your morning meal against this simple equation: Breakfast = Lean protein + healthy fat + fibre-rich carbs.
Stick with eggs, Greek yoghurt, and lean breakfast meats, which helps control your blood sugar and gives you body the building blocks for strong bones and muscles, says LaRue. Combine your choice of lean protein with whole grains like oatmeal, whole-grain bread, or quinoa, and fruits and vegetables, which provide fibre and complex carbohydrates that help you feel full longer. And don’t shun fats like nut butters, avocado and olive oil. Your body need fat to absorb vitamins in your food, and they contribute to the “fullness factor”, says LaRue. (Meaning, they'll help you feel satisfied for longer.)
And don’t be afraid to think outside of the traditional breakfast box, says Harbstreet. “If we expand options to include foods or ingredients more common in lunch or dinner meals, we introduce more variety and convenience,” she says. “In some cases, dinner leftovers from the night before can be one of the best choices to save time, cleanup, and effort in the early morning hours.”
If you need inspiration, here are some healthy breakfast options that make the grade.
- Overnight Oats: Try LaRue's High Protein Chocolate Banana Overnight Oats, which satisfies your sweet tooth while providing a good dose of protein, thanks to the addition of cottage cheese, and fiber.
- Breakfast Toast: Your morning bread doesn’t have to be just butter and jam. LaRue loves making savory breakfast toast. Top your toast with ricotta cheese, burrata, or feta cheese and veggies like tomatoes, avocado, or arugula. Add an egg, seeds or nuts and you have a balanced meal. Harbstreet also loves whole grain toast with peanut butter topped with fresh figs and dried cranberries.
- Baked Oatmeal: Harbstreet’s go-to recipe combines oats with milk, dried or chopped fruit and some egg to bind it all together. “I’ll bake them in muffin tins so they can be a grab-and-go option, or reheated in a bowl,” she says. “I pair them with a container of yogurt and handful of raw or roasted nuts.”
- Veggie Hash: If you have leftover veggies in the fridge, transform them into a hearty breakfast in under 10 minutes. Add them to two scrambled eggs and top with a small amount of cheese, says Harbstreet.
This article originally appeared on Women’s Health US.